ROCHELLE — An unfamiliar foe and a long road trip are once again the themes for the Rochelle football team as the Hubs prepare to kick off the 2019 season with a nonconference battle against the Pekin Dragons.
After traveling nearly 350 miles south to open 2018 against the Marion Wildcats, the Hubs will head south for the second time in two years, covering about 120 miles from Rochelle Township High School to Pekin Community High School, which carries an enrollment (1,927) over two times larger than RTHS (910). Rochelle has no record of matchups against Pekin dating back to 1996, but head coach Kyle Kissack is aware of the program’s rich tradition.
“They’ve played really good football for a very long time,” Kissack said. “They’re coached very well and their kids play hard. They play up to a standard and they’ll certainly be a challenge for us. There’s obviously a size difference between the two schools as well.”
The Hubs are looking to start their quest for four straight postseason appearances, while the Dragons will aim to rebound from finishing 4-5 overall and 3-4 in the Mid-Illini Conference this past season. Pekin returns Second-Team All-Conference wide receiver Sebastian Hill, who Kissack identified as a key playmaker in film study. Kissack also highlighted new quarterback Wyatt VanNess and defensive lineman Kai Benson as players to watch out for.
“Sebastian’s a nice player and the film we have on him from last night shows us that he’s a very athletic kid on the outside,” Kissack said. “Their quarterback was on the junior varsity team last season but from what we understand, he’s very solid with a lot of athletic ability. They have a couple of kids on the defensive front with a lot of size who could possess problems for us offensively. We’re aware of their personnel and we want to focus on ourselves.”
Rochelle went to the wire with Marion during the 2018 opener, when the Wildcats stormed down the field in the final seconds and stunned the Hubs by a score of 43-40. The Hubs will aim to reverse their opening week misfortune against the Dragons, who have won three straight games on opening week.
“We want to be physical, we want to control the football and we want to play good, gap-sound defense to keep the ball in front of us,” Kissack said. “If we do those things, we’ll have an opportunity to play well. It’s the first week, and not many people know what they have in the first week, so it’s a chance for us as a young team to see how we can compete.”